Perpetrators of Nigerian scams have turned West Australian government agency, ScamNet, against itself, impersonating the department to fleece $9000 from an unknown West Australian woman. This is the second time that hoaxers have impersonated a West Australian government agency, the first occurring when they impersonated the WA Police in December 2009.
The elaborate hoax involved 85 fake emails impersonating a number of large organisations and government bodies, including WA ScamNET, eBay, PayPal, the Nigerian Police and Customs and Central Bank. The use of several organisations prolonged contact with their victim even after being reported to WA ScamNet.
The victim originally contacted WA ScamNet in May and was advised by the regulator to discontinue dealings with the fraudsters. Upon attempting to cut ties with the scammers, the woman received fake emails with WA ScamNet and WA Government logos wrongly advising her to cooperate with "Nigerian authorities". She later received a fake police email telling her that the Nigerian President had awarded her $US250,000 in compensation for her assistance in catching the scammers, but was told she had to pay a $US7000 transfer fee to release the money.
Although the fraudulent emails seemed to come from the government body, WA ScamNet spokesperson, Dale Tuberville, confirmed that the emails were not generated from ScamNet's servers. Instead, the scammers used a standard hyperlink to redirect replies to a dummy email account based in the United States, which was subsequently shut down.
In 2009, Australians lost over $70 million to online scams. Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Anne Driscoll said that scammers were becoming quite smart in presenting themselves professionally and that consumers should watch out for emails from known scammers.
"These criminals will stop at nothing to fleece online buyers and sellers of their money, including impersonating government officials in fake emails," Driscoll said. "You absolutely need to go to known and authenticated sites as opposed to relying on something that comes through to you."
Although nothing more can be done for the victim, WA ScamNet has informed eBay Australia and PayPal Australia of the fraudulent emails being sent in their name.
A PayPal spokesperson told Computerworld Australia that it is working on an education campaign with the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Broadband Communications and Digital Economy to alert its public and its customers about similar scams.